Online use among adults continues to grow. Not only did a 2014 Pew Research Center report find that all platforms show growth among users since 2013, a staggering 52% of online adults now use two or more social media sites. Facebook is far and away the most popular outlet, with over one billion users, but other platforms like Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, continue to show significant growth from year to year. People are using these platforms for more than just casual browsing, 70% of Facebook’s users access the site at least daily (and 45% multiple times a day).
Given the vast number issues/articles/ideas competing for the same real estate, can social media actually be leveraged to raise awareness or money for public health causes? Here are just three of the many health causes that have benefited significantly from social media campaigns:
- ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – It’s hard to imagine that the now infamous ice bucket challenge started with one guy in Boston. By going viral, donations to the ALS Association were up 1000% percent compared to the previous year, with more than $15 million raised.
- Movember – #Movember has become a cultural phenomenon that encourages men to grow mustaches in November to support men’s health and document their efforts on social media like Facebook and Instagram. The organization encourages its participants to engage in conversations about men’s health and has significantly raised public awareness of men’s health issues. From humble roots, the Movember Foundation has successfully leveraged social media to become the largest non-government investors in men’s health programs in the world. Since 2003, over 4 million people have participated in the Movember challenge and the foundation has raised over $550 million. In 2013, the foundation accepted the Social Force of the Year award from GQ magazine.
- Cancer Fundraising – In 2014, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the world’s largest independent cancer research and awareness charity, raised over $13 million in six days through Facebook and Twitter by asking women to post selfies without makeup using the hashtag #nomakeupselfie.
Don’t be discouraged if your campaign does not generate as much impact as you had hoped. Using social media is a key tool in the public health promotion arsenal, but the jury is still out on whether these campaigns bring lasting change. Though social media use can be used for health promotion, convincing young adults to use condoms to prevent STDs, the effects seen in a recent study at 2 months had disappeared by the end of the six month follow-up.
To maximize impact, take some advice from the paper, “Adoption and Use of Social Media Among Public Health Departments,” which found that public agencies were not using social media campaigns to their full advantage. Health departments were using social media channels to distribute information, rather than engaging users. The study recommends developing a “strategic communication plan that incorporates best practices for expanding reach and fostering interactivity and engagement.” One common theme to the viral campaigns discussed above – they all encouraged community engagement. When planning your next social media campaign, make sure it has more than one-way communication.
The successes, and failures, of social media public health campaigns have more than proven that social media can be a highly effective tool for public health and should provide added incentive to continue to innovate to find new ways to go ‘viral’.